THIS PIONEERING institution for classical dance, music and the fine arts, established in 1936, was the brainchild of Rukmini Devi. A protegee of Annie Besant, she was deeply influenced by the progressive views of the Theosophical Society.At 16, she scandalized conservative society by marrying George Sydney Arundale the 40-yearold Australian principal of the Society’s school. The couple’s extensive travels around the world exposed Rukmini to the world of Western culture, specially dance, inspiring her to study ballet under the great Russian ballerina, Anna Pavlova. Back in Chennai, she again defied tradition by learning and performing the classical dasi attarn, hitherto the domain of devadasis (temple dancers). The International Centre for the Arts, which she set up for the revival of this dance form, now called Bharat Natyam is today Kalak-shetra , the “Temple of Art”.
The school is set in a vast 40-ha (99-acre) campus, where classical music and dance are taught according to the traditional methods, by which a guru imparts knowledge to a small group of student . Some of India’s best known dancers, such as yamini Krishnamurti, Leela samoson n and Alarmel Valli, were trained here. At the end of each year, a festival is held and performances are staged in an auditorium designed like a hoottambulam , the traditional theatre of Kerala temples.
ONE OF CHENNAI’S newest attractions is a film city, dedicated to the memory of the hugely popular matinee idol, MG Raman – chandran. This is now the most popular location for Chennai’s flourishing Tamil film industry, which is second only to Mumbai in film production. A fantasy world of extravagant sets and hi-tech equipment, Film City attracts starstruck fans from all over Tamil Nadu, who come here to catch a glimpse of their favourite film stars.
AS THE CAPITAL OF TAMIL NADU, Chennai has an excellent .election of handicrafts and handwoven textiles from the state. From shimmering silks in glowing colours and finely woven cottons to jewellery and replicas of Chola bronzes, the choice is enormous. The city’s shopping centres include up-market department stores, malls and trendy boutiques, as well as the vibrant local bazaars which sell a wide range of merchandise. Chennai is also the cultural capital of South India, where performances of classical dance and music take place throughout the year. The height of the cultural season is from mid-December to mid-January, when the city hosts the prestigious Chennai Festival.
SHOPS AND MARKETS
THE BEST shopping in Chennai can be found in the more traditional areas, such as Panagal Park, Pondy and Burma bazaars, and the lanes around the temple at Mylapore. These were small street markets that have now grown into mini shopping malls, where everything is available at bargain prices. Chennai oldest department store, Spencer’s, partially burned down in the 1980s, and has now been rebuilt as a modern mall. It houses shops selling merchandise as varied as groceries and imported Swiss watches. Next door is the city’s oldest landmark, VTI (Victoria Technical Institute), where handicrafts and a range of good quality linen are sold. This charitable organization supports South Indian Christian missions that specialize in exquisite hand-embroidery. Most shops are open Monday to Friday, from 9:30am to 7pm. Bazaars, however, keep more flexible hours.
JEWELLERY AND ANTIQUES
THE BEST PLACE for high quality traditional South Indian gold jewellery is Vummidi Bangaru Jewellers. They also stock excellent reproductions of the gem-encrusted costume jewellery worn by classical dancers. Prince Jewellery, in Panagal Park, has jeweller from Kerala and also specializes in light weight gold ornaments. Modern and traditional silverware and jewellery are available at Sukhra and Amethyst. Genuine antiques are hard to find. However, Rani Arts & Crafts stocks copies of old artifacts, including brass and metal images and objects, Tanjore (Thanjavur) paintings and lacquerware.
TEXTILES AND SARIS
TAMIL NADU is renowned for the richness and variety of its silk and cotton textiles, a good selection of which is available in Chennai. Radha Silks, Kumaran Silks and Sundari Silks are famous all over India for their wonderful range of fabrics and silk saris from Kanchipuram. Nalli’ , a huge multistoreyed shop, has the widest range of Kanchipurarn saris, and is always packed with local shoppers, particularly during the festival and wedding seasons. Other outlets are Man Mandir and Shilpi, a small boutique that sells saris and home furnishings. Fabindia too, stocks furnishings and ready-made garments. A good variety of textiles can he found at Co-optex, the large Tamil Nadu Cooperative of Textiles showroom. This pioneering society has encouraged the revival of handlooms.
HANDICRAFTS AND GIFTS
AFINE SELECTION of handle crafts can be found at Poompuhar, the Tamil Nadu State Emporium. VTI also sells handicrafts, though handembroidered linen and nightwear are their main specialities. Cane and Bamboo is another interesting little shop with an assortment of gift items and souvenirs. Apparao Galleries not only stocks paintings by contemporary Indian artists, but also has an accessory shop for gifts and home products. Their boutique sells trendy designer-wear. Naturally Auroville specializes in natural products made in the Pondicherry Ashram and Auroville. The merchandise includes pottery, handmade paper, perfumed candles, incense sticks and aromatherapy oils and lotions. Chennai is also a good place to shop for handcrafted musical instruments, such as the violin, mridangam and Deena. While these are found at many outlets in the city, the best selections are available at Musee Musicals and Saptaswara Music Store. Music World stocks a wide range of CDs and audio cassettes by well-known Carnatic musicians. The city also has a number of excellent bookshops. Of these, the oldest and most well-stocked is Higginbotham’s, established in 1844.
ENTERTAINMENT GUIDIES , TICKETS AND VENUES
A NNOUNCEMENTS of perform.ancessof Carnatic music and classical dance such as Bharat Natyam appear regularly in the entertainment columns of local newspapers. The city guides Hallo! Madras and Chennat This Fortnight list I entertainment venues and information on tickets. Performances of music and dance are held throughout the year. However, the peak season is from 15 December to 15 January, when the Chennai Festival, organized by the city’s sabhas (cultural societies), takes place. Durings this period more than 500 concerts are held. The most prestigious cultural centre is the Music Academy. Other venues are Narada Gana Sabha, Sri Krishna Gana Sabha and Karthik Fine Arts. Classical dance and music performances are also held at the Museum Theatre in the Pantheon Complex and the auditorium at Kalakslietra.
MUSIC AND DANCE SINCE
Since the 1920s, Chennal has been the leading centre of Carnatic music and classical dance. The first music festival took place in December 1927 during the Madras session of the Indian National Congress. A year later, the Music Academy was established to promote Carnatic music, and in 1936, Rukmini Devi set up Kalakshetra to popularize Bharat Natyam, the dance form once performed only in temples. Today, these two institutions along with the many sabhas are the major sponsors of music and dance events in the city. During the season, music lovers gather in Chennai to hear India’s top performers as well as promising new talent. Concerts of Camatic music, both vocal and instrumental, begin in the morning and often last till midnight. Dance recitals are also held. Recently, some dancers have experimented with the traditional repertoire to create a contemporary form that is a fusion of Indian folk and classical forms with Western themes.
THE CHOICE OF FILMS that show at Chennai’s many cinemas, such as Devi, Ega, Gaiety (founded in 1919), and the Sathyam Cineplex. ranges from Hollywood and Tamil blockbusters to the latest Hollywood releases. Tamil fil ms are very similar to those produced in Mumbal’s Hollywood, with song and dance sequences and a great deal Of melodrama. But they play a role far beyond mere entertainment – their themes often have a social message and their charismatic actors, with their political links make them a potent medium of communication, especially among rural audiences.